Inner corridor trails in Grand Canyon National Park
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How to Hike Rim to River in Grand Canyon National Park

One of the most epic hikes in the United States is the Grand Canyon rim to river hike, also known as hiking rim to river to rim.  Few people get to revel in the breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon from both above and below, but if you choose to take on a rim to river hike, you will experience just that, and it is an unforgettable experience! In this guide, you will find everything you need to successfully hike the Grand Canyon rim to river, including a full trail report, terminology, park info, logistics, gear recommendations, and safety precautions.  

 

How to hike rim to river in Grand Canyon

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How to Hike Rim to River in Grand Canyon National Park

 

This post will walk you step by step through preparing for and executing a rim to river hike in Grand Canyon National Park, in ONE day!

 

Hiking the Grand Canyon's Rim to River hike in one day
The an iconic landmark of a Grand Canyon Rim to River hike!

 

 

Guide to the Grand Canyon Rim to River Hike

 

This guide to the Grand Canyon rim to river hike includes the following information:

 

  • Grand Canyon National Park Info
  • Rim to River Logistics and Terminology
  • Full Trail Reports of Rim to River Trails
  • Gear Recommendations
  • Safety Precautions
  • Training for the Rim to River

 

The rim to river hike in Grand Canyon
Get ready for views like this on the rim to river to rim hike!

 

 

Grand Canyon Rim to River Overview:

 

Length: depends on route taken (South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail OR Bright Angel Trail Only)

16.5 miles (down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel) to 19 miles (down Bright Angel and up Bright Angel)

(this length can vary slightly depending on how far hikers hike at the bottom, i.e. just to Bright Angel Campground or further to Phantom Ranch).

 

Highest Elevation: 7,200 feet

 

Lowest Elevation: 2,500 feet

 

Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet

 

Elevation Loss: 4,700 feet

 

Rating: Very Difficult

 

Dog Friendly: NO

 

Fees and Permits:  There is a $35 entrance fee into the South Rim entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.  It is good for 7 consecutive days (so you can come back and leisurely visit the park again after you finish hiking!). No permit is required to day hike rim to river in Grand Canyon. A permit/reservation is only required if you are trying to camp at one of the campgrounds. (This post only addresses day hiking rim to river). 

 

Helpful Resources:

 

Closest Cities:

  • Tusayan, AZ to South Rim: 15 minutes
  • Williams, AZ to South Rim: 1 hour
  • Flagstaff, AZ to South Rim: 1 hour and 30 minutes

 

Closest Airport(s):

  • Grand Canyon Airport
  • Flagstaff Pulliam
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

 

Hiking rim to river to rim

 

 

Logistics and Terminology of the Rim to River Hike:

 

So where does the rim to river hike actually take place?  What rims are involved and which trailsWhen should you hike rim to river?

 

First off, technically you can hike rim to river to rim from either of Grand Canyon’s North or South Rim.  Starting and finishing on the South Rim is much more popular for three reasons:

  • Access
  • Convenience
  • Distance

 

#1: The North Rim is closed between October and May, so it is not possible to start or finish a rim to river hike during those months at the North Rim. 

 

#2: The South Rim has lodging, restaurants, tourists spots, access to larger towns and cities like Tusayan, Williams, and Flagstaff, and is closer and easier to get to for most out of town visitors.  The North Rim is better suited for boondockers, campers, or those able to snag a place at the North Rim Lodge or the small outpost of Jacobs Lake.  

 

#3: A rim to river hike on the South Rim is significantly shorter.  Going down and back up the North Rim’s inner corridor trail, the North Kaibab Trail, would put you at 28 total roundtrip  miles, compared to the South Rim’s 16.5 or 19 miles roundtrip.

 

I am not dissing the North Rim by any stretch, it is one of my favorite places in the Southwest! And if you successfully complete a rim to river hike and are looking for the next best challenge, a rim to rim hike from the North Rim to the South Rim is for you!  You can check out my guide to hiking Rim to Rim HERE!  But for the purposes of this guide, I will be saying that the rim to river hike takes place at the South Rim.  

 

So now that you know that the rim to river hike takes place at the South Rim, which trails are actually involved?

 

Technically, there are several ways to hike rim to river to rim.  Let’s start with basic terminology and logistics.

 

There are 2 trails that descend the South Rim:  Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail.  Below you will find a map indicating the trailheads for both trails, and the route in between that leads to and from Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground.

 

A rim to river hike using the South Rim trails

 

Map of rim to river to rim
South Rim trail map courtesy of NPS website

 

South Kaibab Trail overview on a rim to river hike in Grand Canyon
South Kaibab Trail Overview

 

Bright Angel Trail overview on a rim to river hike in Grand Canyon
The Bright Angel Trail Overview

 

South Rim trails on a Rim to River to Rim hike in Grand Canyon
South Rim trails comparison

 

Rim to river trail comparisons
South Rim trail comparisons

 

Both trails have pros and cons, and here are a few of the big ones: Bright Angel Trail is longer but less steep.  South Kaibab Trail is shorter but steeper.  Bright Angel Trail has several water refill stops.  South Kaibab Trail has no water.  Bright Angel Trail is located in Grand Canyon Village and is adjacent to plenty of parking as well as a lot of other tourist stops, lodging, food, etc.  South Kaibab Trail is more isolated and accessed only by park shuttles or taxi.  

 

Bright Angel Pros:

  • Less steep
  • Water
  • Havasupai Garden
  • Closer to amenities, infrastructure, and facilities

 

Bright Angel Cons: 

  • More congested (more hikers)
  • Arguably second place views compared to South Kaibab

 

South Kaibab Pros:

  • Shorter length
  • Less congested
  • Epic viewpoints like Ooh Aah Point, Cedar Ridge, and Skeleton Point

 

South Kaibab Cons:

  • Steeper
  • No water
  • Further from amenities and facilities
  • Accessible by shuttle or taxi only

 

To summarize:

Comparison of rim to river trails
Pros and cons of the South Rim trails

 

So, how do you put together a rim to river hike based on these 2 trails?  You have 2 options.

 

 

Trail Options for Hiking Rim to River to Rim:

 

 

Option #1:  Hike down and up the same trail

 

Hike down Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground, and hike up Bright Angel Trail

OR 

Hike down South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground, and hike up South Kaibab Trail

 

***Though it is possible to hike down and up South Kaibab Trail, I would NOT ever actually recommend that option.  Hiking up South Kaibab Trail can be extremely dangerous, due to the fact that you are hiking up the steeper and harder route, during the latter part of the day when temperatures are hottest, and there is NO water on South Kaibab.  Just don’t!

 

For the purposes of this guide, I will be recommending that if you want to hike down and up the same trail, you do so on Bright Angel Trail!

 

Option #2: Hike down one trail, and up the other

 

Hike down South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground, and hike up Bright Angel Trail

OR 

Hike down Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground, and hike up South Kaibab Trail.

 

***I am going to go ahead and stop here and say that I would NOT actually recommend the last option ever!  It is a possibility, but there is no real reason to put yourself at risk by hiking up South Kaibab, a steeper and more exerting route, during the latter and hotter part of the day, with no water availability.  Just don’t!

 

***For the purpose of this guide, if you want to go with Option #2 and hike down and up different trails, make it down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel! This is my 1st choice of route for hiking rim to river in Grand Canyon!

 

 

Logistics Recap:

 

Your two options are:

Hike down and up Bright Angel Trail

OR

Hike down South Kaibab Trail and up Bright Angel Trail (*recommended)

 

***I will be following the recommendation of hiking down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel for this post!

 

Hiking rim to river in Grand Canyon
Soaking up the “crossroad” of the South Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail

 

 

Accessing Bright Angel Trail

 

Regardless of where you start and finish, you will need to know how accessing Bright Angel Trail works.  

 

If you are planning to hike down and up only Bright Angel Trail, then you are looking at the most logistically simple option.  

 

Enter the park at the South Rim Entrance.  Pay $35 dollars.  Park in Grand Canyon Village near the Bright Angel Trailhead (easy to find on Google Maps or AllTrails).  The best parking is in Lot D or by the Backcountry Office (stick close to Maswik Lodge).  Hike down Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch, and up Bright Angel to return to the South Rim.  

 

Find helpful info on where to park for the Bright Angel Trailhead below:

 

South Rim parking at Grand Canyon
South Rim Parking map courtesy of the NPS website

 

Google Maps of helpful parking locations for Bright Angel Trailhead:

 

 

It is easy to book lodging in Flagstaff, Williams, or Tusayan and arrive early for your hike, or if you plan in enough advance, you can book a South Rim lodge.  Lots of people enjoy having lodging close by the night before the rim to river hike, and even the night after.  I myself enjoy having lodging close by the night before and after, because you never know if you might have a late night getting out of the canyon, and it is nice not having to worry about driving far.  

 

If you can’t get a room at one of the hard to book South Rim lodges, my next favorite spot is the town of Tusayan, about 10 minutes from the South entrance gate.  There are a handful of additional chain hotels and lodges here.

 

 

Accessing South Kaibab Trail

 

If you are planning to hike down South Kaibab Trail and up Bright Angel Trail, your logistics are slightly more complicated.  You cannot park a car at the South Kaibab Trailhead, and it is only accessible by shuttle or taxi.

 

You will want to park at Grand Canyon Village, and then take the free park shuttles from there to the South Kaibab Trailhead.  You cannot park at the South Kaibab Trailhead, it is only accessible by park shuttle (or taxi).

 

There are two shuttle options, and they run on different schedules depending on season, so be sure to check the park website for specific details in order to plan your arrival and start time.  You will want to take either the hiker’s shuttle or the orange line from Grand Canyon Village to the South Kaibab Trailhead.  Both park shuttles are FREE.  The schedules also vary depending on season.  Below you can access the National Park website for more details, as well as view summaries of routes and schedules.  

 

Visit the NPS Website for Details on Shuttle Lines and Schedules

 

Shuttle routes of Grand Canyon's Rim to River hike
Shuttle Lines and Routes on the South Rim courtesy of the National Park Service website – Orange is South Kaibab

 

 

After getting dropped off by the shuttle, you will hike down South Kaibab to the Colorado River and Bright Angel Campground.  Remember, there is NO water on South Kaibab, so have all you need before taking off on your descent.  There is a water fill station and bathroom at the South Kaibab Trailhead, but since hopefully everyone knows that there is no water on South Kaibab, there may be a long line of hikers filling up their water when you arrive.  I would fill it up prior to arriving at the trailhead just to be able to skip any lines and get an expedited start.  There are additional toilets along the South Kaibab Trail in addition to the one at the trailhead.  After reaching Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River, ascend back up Bright Angel Trail, arriving back at Bright Angel Trailhead in Grand Canyon Village, and return to your parked car.  

 

It may seem that hiking Bright Angel down and up is the logistically easier thing to do, but there is something to be said for seeing two trails and experiencing their differences, so consider that.  Hiking down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel is arguably the most popular option for the above reason, not to mention that the South Kaibab Trail has some stunner viewpoints, like Ooh Aah Point and Skeleton Point, plus you will have less hikers on the trail. 

 

 

How Long Does it Take to Hike Rim to River?

 

There’s no hard and fast number, but between 9 -13 hours is an approximate average (also dependent on which trails you hike).  I recommend taking breaks, and going slower on the ascent.  It will be much slower going ascending than descending.  Keep in mind that the average hiker can hike down at 3 miles per hour, but even strong hikers will likely slow to 1-2 miles per hour on the ascent.  You can find a helpful chart with distances and timetables below in my full trail report for both Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail.

 

As noted before, this is not a hike you undertake without training and preparation.  You should complete several long distance day hikes prior to a rim to river hike, so that will help you gauge your approximate finishing time according to previous long distance day hikes.  Just know that the last several miles can be unpredictable, and even the fittest hikers slow to a pace that surprises even them.  

 

You will see later in this post a complete list of recommended gear, but now is a good time to mention that bringing a headlamp is a good suggestion, in case your hike takes longer than anticipated.  The South Rim will start to get dark around 6 or 6:30 in October, and be fully dark by 7pm.  

 

The Grand Canyon rim to river hike
Dusk beginning to emerge on the South Rim’s Bright Angel Trail

 

 

When is the Best Time to for the Rim to River hike?

 

Shoulder seasons are the best time to complete a Rim to River hike in Grand Canyon.  Temperatures can still be brutal, but they are not as dangerous.  I would not recommend the summer months, because the temperatures can simply be too deadly.  In winter, you may be contending with harsh winter conditions like sleet, snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, which can be contended with, but are going to take more preparations and specialized gear such as microspikes and the right layers.  So spring and fall are the more straightforward better seasons to hike. 

 

My personal favorite time to hike in the Grand Canyon is October.  It may likely still be in the triple digits during the daytime when you arrive at the bottom, but the more bearable kind of triple digits.  Morning and evening will likely be quite pleasant temperatures.  

 

 

Safety Precautions for the Rim to River Hike

 

The National Park Service doesn’t mess around with warning hikers about the rim to river hike.  There are stark, grim warning signs about the potentially fatal characteristics of this hike posted around the South Rim.  The NPS basically even goes so far as to advise that hikers not attempt the rim to river hike.  So it should go without saying that this is a very serious undertaking.  It is not something you should just “wing” on a whim.  The rim to river hike takes months of preparation, training, and dedication.  So before attempting, be sure you are ready to make that kind of commitment, for your own safety’s sake.  As they say in the Grand Canyon, you have to be able to get yourself out.  A helicopter will not be doing that for you.  

 

Hiking in the Grand Canyon itself can be cruelly misleading at times, and that is important to keep in mind.  After all, how could somewhere so packed with tourists and families and kids, also be so potentially deadly.  Throngs of people descend down Bright Angel Trail everyday, so why is it such a big deal?  

 

Hiking rim to river to rim is deceptive largely because the hardest part comes at the end.  It is so easy to cruise down Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail in the early morning sun and cool temps at the top, and still feel great when hitting the Colorado River.  Then all of a sudden, the temperatures escalate, and instead of being bathed in gentle morning sunlight, you are crushed by simmering temperatures that can easily climb over 100.  And there are large portions of the rim to river hike with very little shade.  Most hikers agree that the hottest part of a rim to river hike is the portion between Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground and Havasupai Garden Campground, about 5 miles in length.  

 

 And don’t forget, there’s the almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain that comes at the end of the hike, after your legs are dead tired, after your body is drained from the sun and heat, and after your energy stores are near empty.  Can you see why the NPS takes its warning so seriously now?  

 

Grand Canyon National Park may be one of the most visited National Parks by tourists of every kind, but venturing down into the canyon, to any degree, is stepping into a different world than one sees from the rims.  It is crucial to know this and prepare accordingly.  Unfortunately, people die every year attempting to hike rim to river in Grand Canyon.  This is why I have an entire post dedicated to properly training for a Grand Canyon hike!

 

How to hike rim to river in Grand Canyon National Park
Get ready for plenty of sun and exposure!

 

 

Rim to River Trail Reports

 

Before we jump into full trail reports of both the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail, take a look at this map showing the standard rim to river route of South Kaibab to Bright Angel Campground to Bright Angel Trail (can also use this map for viewing the route of just descending and ascending Bright Angel Trail).  This map also includes waypoints and landmarks.

 

You can also view another map below with indicated trailheads for South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail, with the highlighted route between the two trailheads.

 

 

Let’s start with a full trail report based on hiking down South Kaibab Trail and ascending Bright Angel Trail (recommended rim to river to rim route).

 

South Kaibab Trailhead: 0 Miles, 7,200 Feet

 

If you are looking for the best views descending into the canyon, South Kaibab is the winner, and that is why I would recommend this combo of trail options for your Grand Canyon rim to river hike!

 

Before you start on South Kaibab, remember that you can only access the trailhead by park shuttle or taxi, you cannot park or leave a car at the trailhead.  Park shuttles are free, and you can find the seasonal schedules above in “Accessing South Kaibab”.  

 

There are bathrooms and a water fill station at the trailhead, but keep in mind that (hopefully) every hiker knows there is no water on South Kaibab, so there may be a long line to fill up with water, so to save time, consider filling up before arriving.  

 

You will get the payoff almost immediately after descending South Kaibab.  There are 4 major standouts along this portion of the rim to river hike.  At .9 miles down, you will hit Ooh Aah Point.  The name says it all.  At Mile 1.5, you will encounter Cedar Ridge, with expansive panorama views, and a bathroom!  Skeleton Point is the next breathtaking viewpoint, at Mile 3.  Finally, the 4th impressive viewpoint comes at Tip Off which is Mile 4.4.  By the time you reach Tip Off, you will have already lost a little over 3,200 feet in elevation loss.    

 

Views along the South Kaibab Trail
Views along the South Kaibab Trail

 

 

Just past Tip Off, you will be able to catch your first emerging views of the ultimate goal – the Colorado River!  Depending on recent weather conditions, you may catch the Colorado on an emerald green day, or a dark, muddy, and murky day!

 

At about Mile 6, you will pass the tunnel and the black Kaibab Bridge, crossing the mighty Colorado River, and making your way towards Bright Angel Campground/Phantom Ranch, and then ultimately the Bright Angel Trail.  

 

Bright Angel Campground: 7 Miles, 2,500 feet

 

At Mile 7, you will reach Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch (Phantom Ranch is just slightly further than Bright Angel Campground, a couple additional tenths of a mile).  On average, it should take about 3 hours to reach the bottom and Bright Angel Campground.  Look for the gentle Bright Angel Creek that winds through the campground area.  This lush little oasis is the perfect snack break and rest stop, and you will want it before tackling Bright Angel.  As long as I have been making good time and not gotten delayed, I like to take a 1 hour break at the bottom.  

 

Bright Angel Campground on the rim to river hike
Break spot – Bright Angel Campground

 

Bright Angel Creek on the rim to river hike
Bright Angel Creek

 

This is where I eat my biggest amount of food on the hike.  I personally pack two meat and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which I eat here, in addition to a hearty amount of hydration.  You can get ice cold lemonade from the little store here, but be sure to bring cash for it!  I also like to take a few minutes to dip my feet in the ice cold Bright Angel Creek, and then change into a fresh pair of my Hilly Twin Skin anti blister socks! Bringing two pairs of socks is one of my gear recommendations for the rim to river hike.  

 

**Insider Tip:  so what snacks exactly are in my “lunchbox” for a rim to river hike?  Here’s a few of my favorites:

 

 

Before leaving Bright Angel Campground, be sure to fill up completely on water!  There is no water after leaving Bright Angel Campground until you reach Indian Garden Campground, 5 miles later.  And you will be passing through the hottest part of the rim to river hike in those 5 miles.  

 

When you leave Bright Angel Campground, you will cross over the silver suspension bridge, and then will start your ascent up the Bright Angel Trail.  Look for the sign on the south side of the bridge directing you towards the Bright Angel Trail on the right.  From Bright Angel Campground, you will have 5 miles until the next big stop at Indian Garden Campground.  

 

Grand Canyon rim to river hike
Signage after crossing the Colorado River on the silver bridge

 

Junction of the South Rim trails on a rim to river to rim hike
The junction of the South Rim trails on the South Rim side of the Colorado River

 

Junction of the South Rim trails
Same sign, another year!

 

Immediately after crossing the bridge and picking up the Bright Angel Trail, you will parallel the Colorado River on the right while overshadowed by tall cliff sides on the left. This part of the trail is sandy and almost beach like, in addition to becoming hotter.  But there are great views looking back towards the bridges and looking down on the Colorado River.  If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of rafters on the water.  

 

Pipe Creek Beach/River Resthouse: Mile 8.8

 

You will approach Pipe Creek Beach and its resthouse shortly, but there is no water here, and you should not actually go down to the “beach” or ever attempt to wade into the Colorado River, as it is very dangerous!  Continuing on from here, you will start your traverse into the heart of the canyon and migrate away from the river.  The heat will climb, the walls will close in, and the hottest part of the rim to river hike begins in full effect.  

 

Just past Pipe Creek Beach, there is a series of switchbacks and a tough climb up from the canyon floor, that is referred to as the Devil’s Corkscrew.  This series of switchbacks is fully exposed with very little shade, and the temperatures will surely be climbing at this point.  It is considered the hottest (and for some the hardest) part of the rim to river hike.  Take it slow here, and don’t overdo it.  Absolutely stop and soak your shirt, hat, or whatever else you need to in any stream crossings you encounter!  It is probably the single best thing you can do, aside from hydrating consistently, to help lower your core temperature.  It is why I recommend wearing cotton, so that your shirt will hold that cold moisture and continuously cool you.  You can find more recommendations on what to wear below my trail reports.  

 

Looking down on the Devil's Corkscrew in Grand Canyon National Park
Looking down on the Devil’s Corkscrew from above on the Bright Angel Trail

 

After climbing the series of switchbacks, you will be edging closer to the welcome relief of Havasupai Garden Campground, another lush oasis in the desert.  You will continue to parallel the creek on the right side, and the canyon walls will become more “tunnelly” and level out some on approach to Indian Garden. Once you start to see more green, you are close.  

 

Havasupai Garden Campground: Mile 12, 3,800 feet

 

Havasupai Garden Campground (previously Indian Garden Campground) is a lovely little green spot along this brutal part of trail, and I would recommend stopping again here for 20-30 minutes for another snack break and rest break.  The hardest part of the trail is still yet to come.  Havasupai Garden Campground has water and bathrooms as well.  

 

*** At Havasupai Garden, you will see signs for Plateau Point.  It is a 3 mile roundtrip point to point trail from Havasupai Garden to a plateau viewpoint.  I wouldn’t recommend adding on any additional mileage at this point, but it is an option.  If you happen to be camping at Havasupai Garden, then it is more of an option, but this post is for day hiking the rim to river.  

 

After Havasupai Garden Campground, there is about 4.5 miles left of your hike, and you will have a brief section of trail that is still slightly leveled out, though still hot and exposed.  Then the real climb begins!  You will know it when you reach it, because it will pick up in elevation gain substantially, and it won’t let up until you reach the top!  The good news is at this point in the day, you will start to receive some shade from the canyon walls, so the tough climb up isn’t fully exposed.  The temperatures will also likely have dropped at this point, so you will not have to deal with stifling heat as you climb out.  

 

Level trail just outside of Indian Garden Campground on the rim to river hike
Level trail just outside of Havasupai Garden Campground (it doesn’t last for long!) on the rim to river hike

 

 

3 Mile Resthouse: Mile 13.5, 4,720 feet

 

1.5 Mile Resthouse: Mile 15, 5,720 feet

 

There are two resthouses as you climb out of the South Rim wall.  3 Mile Resthouse is, not surprisingly, 3 miles from the top and Bright Angel Trailhead, and 1.5 Mile Resthouse is 1.5 miles from the top.  Both have water, and both have bathrooms.

 

***Note: there are times when water may be shut off, like when I completed one of my hikes in 2022.  Both Resthouses had the water shut off due to a pipe leak.  That is why I recommend carrying a full bladder of water any time you have the chance to fill up.  

 

I would recommend stopping and using the bathroom facilities at one (or both) of these resthouses, even if you aren’t exactly feeling it right at that moment, as the trail becomes more congested at this point.  If you find yourself needing to make an impromptu bathroom stop, you won’t have any privacy!  The last 3 miles are full of day hikers and tourists from the rim who are just going down into the canyon for a short jaunt.  

 

About a mile from the top, you’ll pass through the first of two small tunnels, and you’ll know you are getting close!  By now, your legs will probably be non functional, and it will be a slow climb out.  However, enjoy the emerging night time glow of the canyon and those cooling temperatures.  

 

Just near the trailhead, you will want to veer to the right to come out on the actual Bright Angel Trailhead and iconic sign.  (If you veer left, you’ll come out by the Kolb Studio – no big deal, you’ll just need to head to the right to weave back towards the actual official trailhead).  

 

The Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon
Nearing the top of the South Rim on the Bright Angel Trail!

 

The Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon
Dusk approaching on the final push of the Bright Angel Trail

 

Bright Angel Trailhead: Mile 16.5, 6,840 feet

 

Take a minute to enjoy the views from the top of the South Rim.  If it is still light outside, you can probably still make out the little green dots of Havasupai Garden Campground below!  As you take your picture by the Bright Angel Trailhead sign, you’ll probably be thinking you never want to do that hike again!  But give it a few days, and you’ll probably be wanting to come back for repeats, like me!

 

Bright Angel Trailhead on the Rim to river hike in Grand Canyon
Bright Angel Trailhead on the South Rim

 

South Rim Grand Canyon views
Views from the top of the South Rim

 

 

Now for a full trail report descending and ascending Bright Angel Trail.

 

Bright Angel Trail overview on a rim to river hike in Grand Canyon
One way profile of the Bright Angel Trail

 

 

Bright Angel Trailhead: Mile 0, 6,840 feet

 

A descent and ascent on Bright Angel Trail is perhaps the easiest logistically speaking way of completing a rim to river hike.  Some people might argue it is not a true “rim to river”, but I say it is as you are leaving a rim, hiking to a river, and returning to a rim.  If you don’t want to mess with the shuttle, then this is the way to go, though you lose some of the benefits of twice the sights.  

 

Hiking rim to river
Dawn looking out over the South Rim from the Bright Angel Trailhead

 

The Bright Angel Trailhead is well marked with a huge stone sign.  The trail starts directly behind and slightly to the right of it.  As the Bright Angel Trail is less steep than South Kaibab, due to the longer length, you will likely feel great as you cruise down the South Rim at the start of your rim to river hike.  You have about 4.5 miles from here to Indian Garden Campground.

 

1.5 Mile Resthouse: Mile 1.5, 5,720 feet

 

3 Mile Resthouse: Mile 3, 4,720 feet

 

Almost immediately, you will reach the first of the two resthouses on the way down the South Rim.  If I am descending Bright Angel, I usually do not fill up my water bladder here as I just started the hike, and will be able to fill up at Indian Garden Campground.  However, I would recommend using the bathrooms at one of these two resthouses, if not both, because this portion of Bright Angel Trail is the most congested portion due to tourists and day hikers only taking a short jaunt down, and if you need to make an impromptu bathroom break, you will have zero privacy!

 

Hike rim to river in one day
Looking up from Resthouse 1.5 on the Bright Angel Trail

 

After passing 3 Mile Resthouse, you will be through the major portion of the downhill.  Things will level out for the portion of trail leading up to Indian Garden Campground.  This is also where you will start to warm up as the sun comes out and is no longer hidden behind the enormous canyon walls.  

 

Havasupai Garden Campground: Mile 4.5, Elevation 3,800 feet

 

You will probably still be feeling awesome when you pull into Havasupai Garden Campground.  A relatively quick downhill in cool temps, followed by a largely level trail in gentle warm temperatures, may be a little deceptive.  Things will be changing later!

 

The Grand Canyon's rim to river to rim hike
A level approach into the greener Havasupai Garden Campground

 

I personally do not take a full pit stop on the way down until reaching Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch at the bottom.  Havasupai Garden is a lovely little spot in the desert, but keep in mind that you will see it again, and it makes for a more realistic break spot on the way up than it does on the way down.  Enjoy the greenery and the creek as you pass through, and then press on.  There is a water refill station and bathrooms here, and I would recommend using both, as it is a 5 mile push to the bottom from here to reach Bright Angel Campground.

 

Things will stay relatively easy for a bit after leaving Havasupai Garden.  You will continue to be bordered on the left by the gentle gurgling stream, with gorgeous canyon walls and tunnel like landscape.  Then you will hit the top of the Devil’s Corkscrew.  You will know this landmark by looking down on the series of switchbacks carved into the cliffside.  It looks intimidating now, but it will be worse on your way back!

 

Leaving Indian Garden Campground on the rim to river hike
Leaving Havasupai Garden Campground enroute to the Devil’s Corkscrew

 

Going down the Devil’s Corkscrew is another deceptive portion of the Bright Angel Trail, as you don’t fully realize its potential from this direction.  You can tell, however, that you are continuing to lose elevation in a big way as you get closer to the river.  

 

Looking down on the Devil's Corkscrew in Grand Canyon National Park
Looking down on the Devil’s Corkscrew from above on the Bright Angel Trail

 

Pipe Creek Beach / River Resthouse: Mile 7.7

 

After descending the Devil’s Corkscrew, you will traverse the bottom of the canyon, closed in by narrow canyon walls, until you reach River Resthouse and Pipe Creek Beach.   Don’t be fooled by the idyllic sounding name.  Pipe Creek is not your typical beach, and shouldn’t be treated as such.  Some people choose to dip their feet in the river here, but I never recommend having any contact with the Colorado River directly.  It has too much risk involved.  

 

There is no running water at Pipe Creek Beach and the resthouse, so for that purpose, you’ll need to push on towards Bright Angel Campground.  This portion of the trail is bordered by cliffs on the right, and the mighty Colorado River on the left.  In the distance you will be able to see the silver suspension bridge that you will cross shortly.  The trail here is loose and sandy, almost beach like, and not very enjoyable.  But the views, plus the realization that you are closing in on a destination few visitors ever witness, make it worth it!

 

The Colorado River on the Bright Angel Trail
The Colorado River on the Bright Angel Trail

 

Crossing the Colorado River on the silver bridge on the rim to river hike
Crossing the Colorado River on the Silver Bridge

 

Bright Angel Campground: Mile 9.5, Elevation 2,500 feet

 

Crossing the silver suspension bridge is the last step to making it to Bright Angel Campground.  Just beyond, you will also see the Black Bridge, used by South Kaibab Trail hikers.  If you have a fear of heights, I would recommend not looking down as you cross the river!  Once you cross over, you will pass the establishments of Bright Angel Campground, and are a few minutes walk from the bathrooms, water fill station, and a perfect, shady, cool, rest stop at Bright Angel Creek.  If you want to visit Phantom Ranch and get some lemonade or mail some postcards, you will have to add on a few extra minutes and a few additional tenths of miles to your trek.  

 

I love taking a break here next to Bright Angel Creek, in the shade of the lush trees that grow here.  Here I’ll eat a couple sandwiches and replenish a hearty amount of hydration.  I also like to dip my feet in the ice cold stream, and then put on a fresh pair of socks.  Keeping your feet feeling fresh is a helpful strategy to an all day long hike in the canyon.  

 

**Insider Tip:  so what snacks exactly are in my “lunchbox” for a rim to river hike?  Here’s a few of my favorites:

 

 

As long as I have been making a good, at least 3 mile an hour pace up until this point, I like to break for an hour here at Bright Angel Campground.  That includes food, bathroom, and water refilling.  Make sure to refill your water here before departing, as you won’t have another chance until you return to Indian Garden Campground, 5 very hot miles later.  

 

The Grand Canyon rim to river hike

 

When you leave Bright Angel Campground, you will cross over the silver suspension bridge again, and then will start your ascent up the Bright Angel Trail.  Look for the sign on the south side of the bridge directing you towards the Bright Angel Trail towards the right.   

 

Immediately after crossing the bridge and picking up the Bright Angel Trail, you will parallel the Colorado River on the right while overshadowed by tall cliff sides on the left. This part of the trail is sandy and almost beach like, in addition to becoming hotter.  But there are great views looking back towards the bridges and looking down on the Colorado River.  If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of rafters on the water.  

 

Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon
Passing a horse “train” on the sandy portion of trail after the river crossing

 

Pipe Creek/River Resthouse: Mile 11.3 

 

You will approach Pipe Creek Beach and its resthouse shortly, but there is no water here, and you should not actually go down to the “beach” or ever attempt to wade into the Colorado River, as it is very dangerous!  Continuing on from here, you will start your traverse into the heart of the canyon and migrate away from the river.  The heat will climb, the walls will close in, and the hottest part of the rim to river hike begins in full effect.  

 

Just past Pipe Creek Beach, there is a series of switchbacks and a tough climb up from the canyon floor, that is sometimes referred to as the Devil’s Corkscrew.  This series of switchbacks is fully exposed with very little shade, and the temperatures will surely be climbing at this point.  It is considered the hottest (and for some the hardest) part of the rim to river hike.  Take it slow here, and don’t overdo it.  Absolutely stop and soak your shirt, hat, or whatever else you need to in any stream crossings you encounter!  It is probably the single best thing you can do, aside from hydrating consistently, to help lower your core temperature.  It is why I recommend wearing cotton, so that your shirt will hold that cold moisture and continuously cool you.  

 

After climbing the series of switchbacks, you will be edging closer to the welcome relief of Indian Garden Campground, another lush oasis in the desert.  You will continue to parallel the creek on the right side, and the canyon walls will become more “tunnelly” and level out some on approach to Indian Garden. Once you start to see more green, you are close.  

 

Havasupai Garden Campground: Mile 14.5, 3,800 feet

 

Havasupai Garden Campground is a lovely little green spot along this brutal part of trail, and I would recommend stopping again here for 20-30 minutes for another snack break and rest break.  The hardest part of the trail is still yet to come.  Havasupai Garden Campground has water and bathrooms as well.  

 

*** At Havasupai Garden, you may see signs for Plateau Point.  It is a 3 mile trail from Havasupai Garden to a plateau viewpoint.  I wouldn’t recommend adding on any additional mileage at this point, but it is an option.  If you happen to be camping at Havasupai Garden, then it is more of an option, but this post is for day hiking the rim to river.  

 

An onlooker spotted at Indian Garden Campground on the Bright Angel Trail
An onlooker spotted at the lush Havasupai Garden Campground!

 

After Havasupai Garden Campground, there is about 4.5 miles left of your hike, and you will have a brief section of trail that is still slightly leveled out, though still hot and exposed.  Then the real climb begins!  You will know it when you reach it, because it will pick up in elevation gain substantially, and it won’t let up until you reach the top!  The good news is at this point in the day, you will start to receive some shade from the canyon walls, so the tough climb up isn’t fully exposed.  The temperatures will also likely have dropped at this point, so you will not have to deal with stifling heat as you climb out.  

 

3 Mile Resthouse: Mile 16, 4,720 feet

 

1.5 Mile Resthouse: Mile 17.5, 5,720 feet

 

There are two resthouses as you climb out of the South Rim.  3 Mile Resthouse is, not surprisingly, 3 miles from the top and Bright Angel Trailhead, and 1.5 Mile Resthouse is 1.5 miles from the top.  Both have water, and both have bathrooms.

 

***Note: there are times when water may be shut off, like when I completed one of my hikes in 2022.  Both Resthouses had the water shut off due to a pipe leak.  That is why I recommend carrying a full bladder of water any time you have the chance to fill up.  

 

I would recommend stopping and using the bathroom facilities at one of these resthouses, even if you aren’t exactly feeling it right at that moment, as the trail becomes more congested at this point.  If you find yourself needing to make an impromptu bathroom stop, you won’t have any privacy!  The last 3 miles are full of day hikers and tourists from the rim who are just going down into the canyon for a short jaunt.  

 

About a mile from the top, you’ll pass through the first of two small tunnels, and you’ll know you are getting close!  By now, your legs will probably be non functional, and it will be a slow climb out.  However, enjoy the emerging night time glow of the canyon and those cooling temperatures.  

 

Just near the trailhead, you will want to veer to the right to come out on the actual Bright Angel Trailhead and iconic sign.  (If you veer left, you’ll come out by the Kolb Studio – no big deal, you’ll just need to head to the right to weave back towards the actual official trailhead).  

 

Bright Angel Trailhead: Mile 19, 6,840 feet

 

Take a minute to enjoy the views from the top of the South Rim.  If it is still light outside, you can probably still make out the little green dots of Indian Garden Campground below!  As you take your picture by the Bright Angel Trailhead sign, you’ll probably be thinking you never want to do that hike again!  But give it a few days, and you’ll probably be wanting to come back for repeats, like me!

 

Wrapping up the rim to river hike
Wrapping up the rim to river hike just below Bright Angel Trailhead

 

 

Bathrooms Stops Along South Kaibab Trailhead to Bright Angel Trailhead

 

These locations on the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail have bathrooms.

  • South Kaibab Trailhead
  • Cedar Ridge (mile 1.5 from South Kaibab Trailhead)
  • The Tip Off (mile 4.4 from South Kaibab Trailhead)
  • Bright Angel Campground
  • Havasupai Garden Campground 
  • 3 Mile Resthouse
  • 1.5 Mile Resthouse
  • Bright Angel Trailhead

 

Water Stations Along South Kaibab Trailhead to Bright Angel Trailhead

 

These locations on the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail have water fill stations.

  • South Kaibab Trailhead
  • Bright Angel Campground
  • Havasupai Garden Campground 
  • 3 Mile Resthouse
  • 1.5 Mile Resthouse
  • Bright Angel Trailhead

 

 

Recommended Gear for a Rim to River hike

 

I’ve already gone through the trial and error with hiking in the Grand Canyon.  The good news is that means you don’t have to.  I’ve learned what works for hiking into the canyon, and what doesn’t.  I can tell you what I wish I had taken on my first hike that I didn’t.  All my gear recommendations are products I have tried and personally use.  For an in depth dive, check out my sister post on Grand Canyon hiking essentials, or just keep reading to find out about my recommended gear for a rim to river hike.

 

Recommended Gear Quick Links

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hilly Women's Twin Skin Anket, Magenta/Grey Marl, Medium
  • Hilly Women's Twin Skin Anket, Magenta/Grey Marl, Medium

 

 

  • Water Hydration System: 

 

 

 

Platypus Big Zip EVO Taste-Free Water Reservoir/Hydration Bladder, 3-Liter
  • Premium taste-free, leak-proof reservoir with fast flow rate offers hydration on the go for hikers, backpackers, travelers and mountain bikers

 

LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle with 2-Stage Integrated Filter Straw for Hiking, Backpacking, and Travel, Blue
  • ADVANCED WATER FILTRATION. Protects against, microplastics, chlorine, organic chemical matter and sand, dirt, cloudiness and more; improves taste

 

 

 

(Make sure you have plenty of carabiners attached to your daypack also)

 

CamelBak Women’s Helena 20 Hiking Hydration Pack - 85oz, Dragonfly Teal/Charcoal
  • Breathable Air Mesh: For lightweight comfort and air flow.

 

 

  • Environmental Protection:

 

 

 

 

  • Snacks:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Emergency/First Aid Kit:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • The Right Layers:

 

 

 

 

 

  • Navigation:

 

 

Sale
BLAVOR Solar Charger Power Bank, Real Rated 10,000mAh Portable Wireless Charger with USB C Input/Output for Cell Phones, External Battery Pack with Dual Flashlight for Camping
  • Brand-Oriented & Outdoor Charger Pro: With over ten years of experience in solar power banks, BLAVOR has already gained the favor and trust of millions of global users. BLAVOR only uses the highest-grade materials, to provide the most reliable and safe products to customers.

 

Sale
Garmin 010-01879-01 InReach Mini, Lightweight and Compact Satellite Communicator, Black, 1.27 inches
  • Small, rugged, lightweight satellite communicator enables 2 way text messaging using the 100% global Iridium network (satellite subscription required)

 

 

Emergency Shelter:

 

 

(Another option is a SOL Bivy for emergency shelter)

 

 

 

 

  • Personal Items:

 

 

 

 

 

Training for a Rim to River hike in Grand Canyon

 

So, how do you properly train for a rim to river hike in Grand Canyon?  

 

First of all, be intentional!  Don’t just wing it, don’t train a week in advance, and don’t train “when I get around to it”.  You are going to need to commit to training regularly for months in advance to safely hike a rim to river.

 

I have a full post that goes in depth into training  for any version of canyon hiking in the Grand Canyon (because most of them involve some serious descents and ascents no matter where you hike into the canyon!).

 

 

I hope this rim to river guide achieves the goal of getting you to the bottom, and then back to the top, of Grand Canyon, safely!  It is a achievement you’ll never forget, and a memory hard to top!

 

South Rim Grand Canyon
Enjoying a leisurely “day after hiking” visit to the South Rim

 

 

 

PIN for LATER!

Rim to river hike in Grand Canyon National Park

 

Last update on 2023-08-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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